Two trends butted heads Saturday afternoon in Missoula: Weber State hadn’t won in Dahlberg Arena in more than four years, while Montana was 0-5 in Saturday conference games this season.
The Wildcats scored 25 points in a key 12-minute stretch of the second half to take control, leading to a 91-82 Weber State victory to split the road series.
“Our guys were locked in today,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. “They were ready to play and I’m proud of them. I thought we played pretty well. It’s always going to be a good game up here.”
The game was tied 51-51 with 11:58 left and the teams had combined for six lead changes and five ties in the second half to that point. Freshman forward Dillon Jones followed up a pair of made free throws with a steal to start what became the game’s most important run and ensure there were no more ties or lead changes.
After Jones’ steal, junior guard Zahir Porter rebounded his own missed shot in a scramble, WSU clawed to win another loose ball during the sequence and fellow guard Seikou Sisoho Jawara canned a jumper to end the possession.
Moments later, Sisoho Jawara took the ball in the post and calmly dribbled with his back to his defender until drawing a double team, kicked out to Michal Kozak for a 3 and Weber had a 62-54 lead with 9:15 left.
Montana cut it to 62-60 but Isiah Brown finished an 8-3 run with a corner 3 to make it 70-63.
Kozak turned away one final Griz push with a double move in the post for a layup, then by draining a stepback, baseline jumper to beat the shot clock for an 80-73 lead with 1:57 to go.
Montana turned to fouls and pressure, WSU shot 8 of 11 from the foul line down the stretch and scored 40 points in the final 12 minutes of the game to secure the win.
“I thought our guys played with a lot of good poise coming down the stretch,” Rahe said. “You have to finish it up here. ... I’m proud of our guys bouncing back and showing a lot of toughness.”
Brown led Weber State (12-5, 7-3 Big Sky) with 21 points on 6 of 8 shooting, including 2 of 2 from deep and 7 of 7 from the foul line.
As a team, the Wildcats responded to the disruptive Montana defense that led to an 80-67 loss Thursday by shooting 62% from the field, 42% from 3 and 79% from the free-throw line. All eight Wildcats to attempt field goals shot 50% or better for the game.
Sisoho Jawara scored 14 points, all in the second half, adding seven assists and six rebounds. Rahe switched him and Brown to put the usual shooting guard at the point to get the ball in his hands more in the second half.
“(Sisoho Jawara) did a great job running our offense,” Rahe said. “He was patient ... he was taking what the defense gave him and he set his teammates up. Eventually it loosened up for him and he was able to get some stuff at the rim, and made most of his foul shots, too. He played well.”
Jones, Kozak, and Dontay Bassett each scored 13 points. Bassett scored 12 in the first half to carry WSU to a 36-34 halftime advantage, while Jones added eight rebounds, two assists and a steal in 18 minutes off the bench.
Josh Vazquez led Montana (9-10, 5-7) with 17 points by knocking down three 3-pointers. Cam Parker had 15 points and seven assists, and Kyle Owens chipped in 12 points after exploding for 27 on Thursday.
Sophomore guard KJ Cunningham played a season-high 24 minutes off the bench for WSU. After Sisoho Jawara missed a 3 with seconds left in the first half, Cunningham saved the ball from going out of bounds, got fouled attempting a putback and made his free throws to give WSU its halftime lead. He finished with five points, three rebounds and two assists.
Montana’s previous high in points allowed this season was 76 to USC.
Eastern Washington sits atop the conference standings at 8-2 after beating Montana State again. Southern Utah, inactive, is 6-2. Weber State joins Idaho State, who held on to beat lowly Idaho in overtime Saturday, in third place at 7-3.
WSU next hosts Northern Arizona (5-11, 4-6) for two games Feb. 18 and 20 in Ogden.